Friday, 16 May 2014

An open letter to Ed Miliband…

Dear Ed… – is it alright to call you “Ed”? I don’t know you – although you seem a decent enough chap, with a sharp enough brain… – but you seem happy to address me by my given name: so I’ll assume it’s okay.

Firstly, many thanks for your recent email: Ten steps to rebuild Britain: Sign my cost-of-living contract and let’s commit to change Britain together. And I’m sure you’ll be delighted – even though the message itself is actually quite depressing – that I do agree with you, when you say…

In Britain today, we face rising inequality, a cost-of-living crisis for the many and an economy that works only for a few. The link between the wealth of our nation as a whole and the lives of British families has been broken.

You then go on to outline those “ten steps I will take immediately as Prime Minister” to tackle this crisis; and ask if I will “commit to change Britain” with you.

Sorry, Ed: the answer is “no”. And here are my reasons.

Working Men of All Countries, Unite!
In an earlier email to me, you said that you “want to give working people a real choice about joining Labour and a real voice in our party because politics is too important to be left to politicians”. Although I agree with that last part – in which case, you seem to have sacked yourself with your own rhetoric…! – you made a big mistake when you assumed that all Labour party members and supporters are “working people”.

“Hardworking Britain Better Off” is your latest – ungrammatical – slogan. But we’re not all employed, are we – therefore not “hardworking” in the sense that politicians currently employ (sorry) that word? Not all working class heroes are in work. Some of the proletariat pay monthly direct debits to support Labour – because your party appears to be the only credible alternative, at the moment. However, for some of us, this takes a sizable chunk from our benefits – in my case, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – and your regular pleas for extra donations is insulting enough, without you appearing to have withdrawn your support from those most egregiously damaged by the Coalition Government – not the “squeezed middle”, but the long-term unemployed and sick, and the permanently disabled: both of which groups’ members I know would love to be in a job; but for whom merely existing can be extremely “hard work” indeed. (Getting out of bed is hard work, for me; putting on my shoes and socks deserves at least time-and-a-half; smiling, when pain riddles my body – which is always – deserves the massive bonuses I used to earn as a communication consultant. I loved my work. I loved the people I worked with, and for. Yes, the money was nice – but more so was the sense of achievement, the sense of meaning, the reward of graft and creativity, that employment gave me. Now, all gone.)

Who are we to turn to? Why have you fallen in to Dave and George’s heffalump trap of only discussing those in paid work (even if some of these earn less than the Living Wage – which all companies need to provide: not just those incentivized by “tax breaks” – or those on “exploitative” zero-hour contracts: which you say you are going to “ban”, but seem a little fuzzy when it comes to the detail…)? Shirkers and workers? What about the lurkers on the fringes of this cruel capitalist society?

The greatest challenge of our time is to create a new kind of economy that works for working people. The Labour government I lead will rise to that challenge and this contract is our promise.

Labour will deal with the cost-of-living crisis. We will take immediate action to deal with the pressures facing families, and make the big long term changes we need so that hardworking people are better off.

What about pensioners, like my mum and dad? What about those unemployed and/or disabled who rely on the State because they don’t even have families to look after them?

Sorry if I sound ungrateful. But I hope you can understand why.

The common account, according to a common plan
I am thankful, though, for your promise to “Freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017 and reform the energy market” – although I don’t suppose this means that you will revert to nationalizing the suppliers (or public transport, for that matter), to bring them under formal control?

Labour is a commodity
You say that you are going to “Cut income tax for hardworking people… and introduce a 50p top rate of tax as we pay off the deficit in a fair way”. Does that mean that we disabled and unemployed will not have our taxes cut?!

Seriously: it’s not just about funding the deficit, is it? Real socialism – the sort that, I think, your dad would be proud of; and that I imagine still flows through your veins… – would ensure that everyone could afford to live; that food-banks would be an historical blip. Are you courageous enough to make that happen?

Great palaces as communal dwellings
I also appreciate your pledge to “Get 200,000 homes built a year by 2020” and “Stop families that rent being ripped off and help them plan for the future with new long-term predictable tenancies”. However, how are you going to ensure that these houses and rents are truly affordable – and I mean so that real people can live where they want and need to; so that our children are not forced to rent in perpetuity (and not pay allegedly “affordable” monthly sums as defined by the current Government as 80% of the market-rate – i.e. sky-high…)? How are you going to ensure that housing developments are truly sustainable; and suitable for the area they are built in? Are you going to be the saviour that reinstitutes council housing; that sponsors a massive programme of state-funded residential development for those that need it; who finally pricks the seemingly permanent, expanding housing bubble?

Educating children on a communal basis
Ironically, even though all the children in my family are now grown-up, one of the vows you make – to “Help working parents with 25 hours free childcare for three- and four-year-olds” – does fill my heart with joy. A positive note to end on. Sort of.

My partner works in early-years education; and recently lost her job as a family support worker – employed by the local county council – because of the massive cut in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres (one of the best ideas Labour has had since the introduction of the NHS…).

Please put these back on an even keel: by financing them as they were originally intended to be. In a rural community such as ours – where childcare costs are proveably higher – sometimes the few social, medical and education workers remaining, who travel out to see struggling, isolated parents and their families, are true lifelines: the only source of support and help; and the Children’s Centres themselves (where such workers should be based, and in much greater numbers) provide a resource that helps put disadvantaged young children on a firmer footing. The centres need to be local, though – not three bus-rides away, at the other end of the county: and therefore pretty much inaccessible to a young mum with a pram.

I think that’s enough, for now: so thank you for reading it all, Ed. Even if I sound negative, I hope my questioning will lead you to reconsider your party’s concentration on those gainfully employed (and therefore its shadowing of Conservative mores…); and widen your views to all levels of society, all classes of people. I believe you are more than capable of this; but I think it requires a strength, honesty and integrity currently lacking from mainstream UK politics to publicly discuss and implement the ideas that are really needed to get every single inhabitant of this country back on their feet (figuratively speaking, anyway).

Are you such a person? Is the Labour party willing to be so brave? Or will it continue to disappoint those who need it most?

I look forward to your reply. You know where to find me…

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